Rev your engines for the ultimate American road trip. Katie McGonagle steers your way
Imagine cruising down a long, straight highway in a classic 1957 Corvette with the top down, the wind in your hair and nothing but desert as far as the eye can see.
Route 66 is the most romantic of road trips, and up there with the Statue of Liberty, Stars and Stripes and the Hollywood sign as icons of the US.
Even if these days you’re more likely to be in a modern, air-conditioned hire car, the Mother Road has lost none of its appeal.
That’s hardly surprising; it’s been featured in novels and classic songs, immortalised on film and television, and is synonymous with heading west to pursue the American Dream.
The best self-drives take their time – after all, what’s the point in driving 2,450 miles without enjoying the view?
Alternatively, escorted tours open the journey up to those who’d rather not drive themselves.
FOLLOW THE TRAIL
Route 66 stretches from Chicago to Santa Monica, but there can be subtle variations to allow detours to nearby highlights or follow different versions of the historic highway, which was re-routed several times.
Hayes & Jarvis, Travel 2, Virgin Holidays and Funway all begin their self-drive trips with two nights in Chicago, essential for overcoming jetlag and seeing the Windy City.
Kuoni’s USA sales team leader, Steph Dilnutt, says: “Chicago’s got everything, from a man-made beach to theatres, shops, bars and restaurants – and the best pizza. Baseball is popular, and a gangster tour of the city is a must.”
The first leg brings visitors to Springfield, Illinois, to see Abraham Lincoln’s former home and presidential library.
Next comes St Louis, Missouri, where tourists with a head for heights can ascend the 200-metre Gateway Arch for spectacular city views, while those who prefer to stay grounded can wander through the massive Forest Park or enjoy a treat at Ted Drewes frozen custard stand.
After another Springfield, this time in Missouri, Thomas Cook Signature’s self-drive stops in Tulsa, while other routes head straight to Oklahoma City for old-fashioned cowboy culture and family fun aplenty in the city zoo, science and space museums.
Amarillo might be associated with Peter Kay’s music video here, but the real thing is cowboy country through and through. Virgin Holidays recommends stopping at the Big Texan Steak Ranch – eat a 72-ounce steak within an hour and it’s free – and adding your mark to the Cadillac Ranch, an art installation of half-buried cars.
After this, drivers can either follow the original route towards Santa Fe and Las Vegas – Kuoni, Hayes & Jarvis, Thomas Cook Signature and Virgin Holidays favour this – or take the quicker course through Albuquerque into the New Mexico desert.
Both routes allow clients to see the perhaps the most scenic section of Route 66; they can check out amazing cliff-top views from Sky City, take colourful photos in Petrified Forest National Park, and marvel at the meteor crater near Holbrook.
Next on the list is the Grand Canyon. Funway makes a quick detour to cosmopolitan Phoenix first, but most head straight to the big draw. Kuoni schedules a restful two nights at the canyon to explore the park and perhaps add a helicopter ride.
From natural spectacles, move on to man-made wonders in Las Vegas, via a quick stop at the Hoover Dam. Sin City doesn’t need an introduction. Book at least two nights – more if time allows – and pack in as many shows, casinos and attractions as possible. Book them in advance and you’ll pick up the commission.
The last leg of the journey cuts across the Mojave Desert, a delight for anyone who thinks California is just about LA and San Francisco, and comes to a close at the coast in Santa Monica.
It might be the end of the road but it doesn’t have to be the end of the holiday: after all that driving, suggest a few days’ relaxation before flying home. And if your clients are pressed for time, at least make sure they don’t book a flight on the evening they arrive in case of delays.
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